Bishop addresses important church and national topics
My dear friends in Christ,
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I hope these beautiful summer days give each of you a chance to enjoy some rest, relaxation and maybe even a short vacation with family or friends. God sets the rhythm of our lives and in the “busyness” of daily routine, we all need times of rest. That is why Sunday has always been set aside as the Lord’s Day. Hopefully each of us can make Sunday a true day of rest. There is never a justification for missing Sunday Mass however. Even on vacation, our Sunday attendance at Mass must be a priority. Wherever you go, travel safely and return home refreshed.
BISHOP’S MEETING IN ATLANTA
I am sure many of you have already read many of the reports on the annual Spring meeting of the Bishops of the United States. Atlanta is an easy place to get to, so more than the usual number of bishops attended. One highlight for me was the concelebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in downtown Atlanta. It is a beautiful church and has recently been declared a minor basilica by our Holy Father.
The major portion of our four day meeting was taken up with discussion on the Health Care Law passed in 2010. We still have major concerns with the issue of freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience. We are all praying and working for a just solution. I will speak more about the Fortnight for Freedom latter in this letter. The Bishops continue to promote the importance of a true understanding of marriage, our pro-life activities, the Year of Faith, Vocations and many other important issues. We concluded with a prayer reflection on the Eucharist and the Year of Faith, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a chance to go to the sacrament of confession. Thank you for all your prayers and support.
I would like to share just a few words about the issue of illegal immigration. It is still a very divisive issue, both politically and in the Church. From one side, the issue is framed in terms of the “justice” of finding work. There’s some truth to this, but often, actual violations of law seem to be condoned. This undermines shared respect for the rule of law, by making enforcement of laws arbitrary and partisan. The Adminstration’s recent executive order about “deferring” legal action against certain classes of illegal immigrants seems to fit this pattern. The end of his decision may be laudable, but the means remain part of the underlying problem.
From another side, the issue is framed in terms of the “justice” of obedience to laws. There’s more than a little truth to this, too, but the point that law must serve man, and not enslave him, often seems to be overlooked. This also undermines respect for the rule of law, by making the law, and its enforcing agents, seem implacable and untrustworthy, and encouraging more extra-legal (and ultimately illegal) acts. The Postville raid here in Iowa of a few years ago, and its consequences, are an example of this pattern.
These divisions are also heard within the Church, but we should start from a very different first premise. The Church’s most important contribution to the immigration debate is our insistence that the illegal immigrant is, unequivocally, a human person (see Ex 22:21, Dt 10:19). He is not a mere worker, or a mere criminal, or a mere statistic. He bears the image and likeness of God in a unique and personal way. He is endowed by God with an inalienable dignity. These qualities are innate and prior to anything else. Therefore, respect for his personhood is always owed by the law, and by the enforcement of the law.
From this recognition of innate human dignity flow several fundamental principles (see “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” in the chapter on Work). Human persons have a natural right to work, and to move to obtain work where it is available, even if this movement crosses national boundaries. Such immigrants have an obligation to learn the culture of their new place. Countries have a moral obligation to establish and maintain policies to promote access to work, and to cooperate with each other in the legal migration of workers to the extent that their economies interconnect, while also protecting the rights of families and securing behavior that is both just and lawful.
These principles support each other, and the common good, like the poles of a tent: remove one, and the others are much more likely to fall. Mercy without justice is as damaging as justice without mercy – neither amnesty nor deportation is a just solution. Only a solution that preserves human dignity by respecting all the relevant principles can be just and lasting. As Catholics and Americans, we must continue with prayerful, sincere and respectful dialogue and work towards a joint solution to this very important issue. May we continue to pray and work for the best solution for all concerned.
There are many stories and reports about some sort of tensions between the religious women in the United States and the Vatican. I caution all of us to try to understand the true facts and not rely totally on the secular media. As Bishop Leonard Blair (who conducted the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious) has stated, “The biggest distortion of all is the claim that the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and the bishops are attacking or criticizing the life and work of our Catholic Sisters in the United States.” Again, quoting Bishop Blair, “What the CDF is concerned about is the particular organization known as LCWR and its function, responsibilities and statutes.”
I want to affirm and support the good work that so many sisters do and have done in our Diocese and throughout the world. Let’s let the Church in her wisdom lead us all to the truth. Let us trust in the Holy Spirit who remains always with the Church and all her members and who will guide and lead us to peace and understanding.
FORTNIGHT FOR FREEDOM
As you know, we are halfway through our Fortnight for Freedom. We are praying daily for religious freedom, and not only for our own Catholic Church. We are gravely concerned about the significant erosion of the First Amendment we are seeing in the Administration’s foreign and domestic policies, of which the two most egregious are the Health and Human Services mandate, and the attempt to reduce “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship.”
Freedom of religion includes consistent witness and action outside of any formal worshipping, and the institutional freedom of churches and religiously-motivated groups and individuals to serve in public – e.g., in hospitals, nursing homes, and many other much needed ministries. It protects religious groups from the government. Freedom of worship, in contrast, would be freedom to choose whether or not to go to a church, and which one; but no freedom to act consistent with that worship the rest of the week. It denies that institutional ministries are religious actors in society. It imposes government definitions of religion, and of various elements of doctrine (e.g., who is a religious employee, and who is a secular one; or which actions are religious or secular, and so forth), in clear violation of the First Amendment. It protects secular government from religion – which is exactly backwards from what our Constitution says, and also from what our Catholic faith says (see “Dignitatis Humanae,” the decree on religious liberty of the Second Vatican Council, for example).
The HHS mandate denies to churches this full meaning of freedom of religion, which our Constitution and laws have recognized for more than two centuries. It would require that institutions of religious ministry, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and possibly schools, insure contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs, at no cost to employees. This means that these church bodies would be directly paying for grave moral evils, not only for employees and their dependents, but also for everyone who shares in the “risk pool” in which these institutions participate. This is a serious injustice, both in the content of the mandate (forcing churches to support grave moral evils), and in the legal history of the Constitution (radically changing the meaning of the First Amendment). I write these words before the expected Supreme Court decision. Health Care in our country will continue to be an issue for us for many months. Again, please continue to pray for all concerned.
FOURTH OF JULY
The final day of the Fortnight for Freedom is July 4, Independence Day. We are, of course, most grateful to God for the liberty of our country from outside empires, and for the liberties we enjoy within our country. But if we take such liberty for granted, we demonstrate precisely a lack of gratitude. It is because we recognize God as the ultimate author of our cherished liberties that we hold so firmly to both the Constitution and the freedom of the Church.
The Gospel for July 4 is from St. Matthew, the casting out of the demon Legion from two demoniacs into a herd of pigs, who fling themselves into the sea and drown. A clear lesson of this Gospel is that we either drown in God’s mercy, or in His fire. Gratitude goes hand in hand with mercy, but ingratitude with pride and God’s punishment. Above all, in our prayerful efforts to defend religious liberty, I hope we hold firmly to grateful charity for the sake of our neighbor’s rights. For without liberty, there can be no reception of the great truths of Christ’s mercy for us poor sinners, and no rejoicing in Heaven over the converting of lost sheep.
Please continue to pray with great fervor, that Christ will preserve among us the gift of religious liberty, so that souls may freely come to love Him; and that our government officials will rule well and for the good, not for partisan interests. Please pray for me, that I may lead you to Christ in all things. Know that I pray for all of you. May our most gracious Lord and Savior protect and deliver us from every evil.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
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